China plans to launch its first manned space mission in October in the quest to become only the third country to send a human into orbit, an official at the country’s space program mentioned.
“There are plans to launch Shenzhou V in October this year,” said a research official at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., which develops the rocket carriers and the spacecraft.
The China Daily said that 14 former fighter pilots, each with more than 1,000 hours flying experience, had been in training as astronauts “for years”.
Two were sent to Russia’s cosmonaut school and all spent a week in April training in the recently returned unmanned Shenzhou IV capsule. Qi Faren, the general designer of the Shenzhou spacecraft, told the paper the manned craft will “fly for at least one day in space”.
Up to three astronauts are expected to be onboard.
Late last month Shanghai Aerospace Bureau director Yuan Jie said the success of Shenzhou IV, which returned to earth on January 5 after a 162-hour mission, opened the door for a manned mission later this year.
China has so far launched four unmanned spacecraft in its bid to become only the third nation to send a human into orbit, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Chinese space officials have said they are working towards a permanently manned space station and a possible landing on the moon.
While officials have stressed China’s space industry is being developed “for the purpose of peaceful use of space” there are underlying military connotations.
The Chinese space programme, set up in 1992, is run by the military and is shrouded in official secrecy. However, a military official engaged in “strategy research” was quoted in the same report as saying advanced space technology was necessary to prevent China from being “bullied” by others.
China’s manned space program has taken on mammoth proportions, employing tens of thousands of scientific, manufacturing and planning personnel in more than 3,000 factories.